In the end, getting everyone organized and into the car had been easier than expected, Carol thought as she steered her truck carefully along the icy road. It probably helps to have a woman like Irene take over, she mused with a grin.
When she had returned with her truck, the older Patakis had taken over from Kevin and Mike. She had sent them outside to look for Carlos's car, and both men were eager to go out and do something. They were still gone when Carol returned.
Then Irene had told Shana to get her and Anne's coats, and to get ready for the ride to the hospital. Mishka was ordered to stay with Mrs. Hinkel while Mr. Hinkel had to accompany Anne and Carlos to the hospital. She herself would stay as well to "try and clean up this mess" as she put it just as Carol returned to the kitchen.
Carol had just looked at Irene in awe. "You don't happen to need a new job, do you? I really could use someone like you at the department." Her grin had been both heartfelt and relieved, although she knew her offer would be declined.
Carol sighed. Too bad, I really could use someone like her. Nice, old, chatty Mrs. Kennedy wasn't nearly as good at getting things done and organized.
The sheriff slowly curved around a snowdrift, glad that the department had at least this one sturdy, reliable truck. She looked into the rearview mirror to see how her passengers in the back were doing, where things were a little more crowded than they were in the front. Now that had taken some maneuvering, and in the end it had been Shana who had decided where everyone would sit.
Everyone had acquiesced, although it was creeping Carol out that Carlos was sitting right behind her. Just to be on the safe side she had insisted on cuffing his hands together behind his back, and she hadn't gotten any protests, not even from the doctor who was sitting next to him. Anne was in the passenger seat, the back reclined so far it was touching Shana's knees. The blonde had her arms around her lover's shoulders, keeping her calm and as immobile as possible. Carol figured that was a good idea, since any rock under the snow would probably result in a lot of pain.
She wasn't worried at all about Carlos, though, and grimaced at the thought of his head wound bleeding all over her car. She would have put a plastic bag over his head if that had been at all thinkable, but she was pretty certain that would have been considered inhuman by someone somewhere. And the bleeding had slowed down a lot anyway.
There was a gust of wind when they left the shelter of the trees lining the street. Carol proceeded extremely carefully, peering into the gray-white dullness all around, where sky and landscape melted into each other. Her hands were beginning to cramp from the death grip she had on the steering wheel, and she wiggled her fingers, hoping to get some life back into them. Her shoulders were aching and she yearned for a cup of coffee and a long, hot bath. For now, she would take standing in front of the hospital. Sighing, she returned her gaze to the road, checking for any dangers and registering landmarks along the way. "We're almost there," she said when she spotted the sign that announced that Halverston was three miles away.
Nobody answered her.
Fifteen minutes of careful driving later, Carol parked in front of Halverston's hospital. Or what their small town called the hospital. Outside it was barely more than an old building with a brightly lit sign saying 'Medical Center'.
Doctor Hinkel looked at the old building dubiously. "This is your hospital?"
"Yup," Carol said as she opened her door, "this is it." She watched as Shana got out of the car and helped Anne out, then waited for the doctor to join her before she tried to get Carlos out of the backseat. "For anything really serious we'd have to go down to Burlington, which is a drive I don't want to have to do in this kind of weather." With that she opened the door and pulled Carlos out of the backseat none too gently. She noted happily that he wasn't bleeding anymore.
Carlos groaned when they put him on his feet outside the car, and began to struggle weakly against the handcuffs and the grips on his arms.
"Ah, you're awake," Carol said with a grin. "Good. Then I won't have to drag you inside." Her hand squeezed his arm until she knew she had his attention. "Can you walk?"
Carlos nodded and shot her a murderous look, which Carol ignored.
Inside the medical center it was even darker than outside. A single desk lamp lit the reception desk, but all other lights were off and there was no one in sight. At the end of a hallway to the right there was an open door that allowed light to spill into the hall, and voices could be heard from that direction.
They're probably playing cards back there, Carol thought, grunting under the weight of her prisoner, who was leaning heavily on her. She looked around for a place to deposit her burden. "Hello?" she called out, "we could use some help here."
Shana had led Anne over to one of the chairs in the open waiting area and gotten her to sit down. Anne was cradling her injured arm but looked around as if she couldn't be less interested in what was going on. Carol remembered a time when she would admire that cool, calm fa?ade on the tennis court. Still, putting Carlos in the seat next to her would probably be asking for trouble.
Anne watched as Carol looked around, obviously getting tired of hanging on to Carlos. She stood, pretending to be suddenly interested in a picture on the wall. She didn't know why she didn't want Carol to know she was getting out of the way, and she didn't think about it too much. It was difficult enough not to give in to the feeling of dizziness that getting upright had caused. She wasn't at all surprised to feel Shana's steadying hand on her back not a second later.
Carol walked over to the seats and unceremoniously dumped Carlos in the first chair. Then she grabbed his shoulders and leaned his upper body sideways so that he was half lying, half sitting on two chairs.
Straightening and turning around, she found herself face to face with a short, attractive woman. "Well, if it isn't Sheriff Miller gracing us with her presence on this gloomy day," the caramel-skinned woman said in greeting. "So, what happened? Accident?"
"Hi, Andy," Carol replied as the doctor kneeled on the floor to check out Carlos's head. She touched Andy's shoulder to get her attention and then pointed in Anne's direction. "Leave him for a minute. Over there is the important case."
With a doubtful look between the two patients, Andy rose and with a nod decided to let Carol handle the situation for the moment. Together they walked the few feet over to Anne and Shana.
"Let me introduce you," Carol said. "This here is o?N"
"No need to say anything, Carol," the doctor grinned, "I'm perfectly able to recognize the reason why everyone here has cable TV." She started to offer Anne her hand but withdrew when Anne's coat slipped from her shoulder and she could see the blood on her arm. "I'm Dr. Andrea McLaughlin, Andy for short."
"Pleased to meet you, Andy," Anne said. "I wish it could have been under different circumstances."
"I can believe that," the doctor replied as she gently removed the coat and took a first cursory glance at Anne's arm.
"Andy, this is o?N"
"Shana Wilson, of course," Andy cut Anne off. "I apologize for my rudeness." She shook Shana's hand.
"That's okay, Andy," Shana said with her easy, public relations-trained smile, "Anne's much more important right now. She's the one who got shot."
"And the guy over there did it, right?"
"Right," Carol and Shana answered as one.
"I can see why you want me to take care of this arm first," Andy said to Carol, "but I do have to take a look at him to see what's wrong. His head looked pretty bashed in." She held up her hand to stop Carol's protest. "I know you don't want to hear it, but a head wound is a bit more important than this."
"Not when the arm is worth millions, it isn't," Carol replied stoically. "Besides, he didn't get half of what he deserved!"
"Carol, it's okay," Anne said calmly, "I'll just have Doc Hinkel take care of me. He's done a fine job so far." She nodded her head in the direction of the elderly doctor who had been standing close to Carlos the whole time. "Andy, this is Dr. Fritz Hinkel from Berlin. Dr. Hinkel, this is Dr. McLaughlin." Both doctors nodded in greeting. "Doc Hinkel has been taking care of me and Shana these past few days, and I'm afraid we've done more than enough to ruin his vacation."
Andy looked between Anne and Carlos and the quiet old man. "Do you have experience with gunshot wounds?"
"No." He shook his head.
"Then you better take care of the head wound while I take care of this," Andy said and turned to lead Anne down the hall. She stopped when the tall woman didn't move. "What is it?"
"I think it would be better if you took care of Carlos and Dr. Hinkel took care of me. We all had our real bad experiences with him, and I really can't do that to the doc."
Fritz Hinkel smiled. "Anne, it's okay," he said, using her first name for the first time. "The doctor is right, you know. It is much better I take care of him than of you." He motioned for her to follow the doctor and nodded at Shana, who gave him a tiny smile. Reluctantly, Anne walked down the hall until Shana took her hand and squeezed it.
"I'm proud of you for being so thoughtful, my love," Shana whispered and was rewarded with a smile.
With a sigh, Fritz Hinkel turned and walked over to Carlos, who stared at
him with cold blue eyes.
The first thing Shana saw when she entered the room was a nurse. A very tall, broad-shouldered, male nurse. She grinned at his back as she realized with relief that there was someone to help Dr. Hinkel take care of Carlos.
"Hello," she said in greeting as he turned around to greet the newcomers.
"Hello," he replied in a surprisingly high-pitched voice.
"Anne, Shana, meet Little John," Andrea murmured absent-mindedly as she looked around for a pair of scissors.
Little John?" Shana asked.
"Yeah," the giant said with a smile. "Andy's idea of humor." He grinned and turned to Andrea. "Hey, Doc, what do you need me to do?"
Before Andrea could say anything, Shana spoke. "I think he should be helping Dr. Hinkel with Carlos, don't you agree? I'd feel much better knowing there's someone there to keep him in check." She held up her hand as Anne started to say something. "I know Carol is out there, but she doesn't have medical knowledge and --"
Anne smiled. "You're rambling, Shay, but I agree," She sighed. "Although I wouldn't mind if he died a very slow and painful death sometime soon." She growled the last part.
Andrea nodded and watched as John left the room, closing the door behind him. She turned to Anne. "I take it there's a story there, right?"
"Right," both Anne and Shana replied wearily.
"Ah, nothing you want to talk about, I take it?" Andrea started unbuttoning Anne's shirt.
"Not particularly," Shana agreed. She was watching the doctor closely, not liking the look in Andy's eyes as she uncovered Anne's bra-less breasts. "Err, can I help?" she stammered. "I could remove the shirt while you get everything ready." She blushed as she saw Anne's understanding smile.
"Nah, that's perfectly okay." The doctor blithely ignored the request. "No trouble at all." She was down to the last two buttons when Anne's good hand stopped her.
"Could you give us a second, doc?" Anne asked with a smile in Shana's direction, before pinning the doctor with her eyes.
A clue jumped at the doctor and hit her in the face. "Ah, okay, no problem." She stepped away from the two women. "I'll go prepare the X-ray room, then. I'll get you in a sec." With that she left the room.
"Jealous?" Anne reached up with her hand and turned her lover's face until she could see right into her eyes. "There's no need, baby. I just want to get my arm looked at, and then I want to go home."
"I'm sorry," Shana sighed, "She looked at you like you were a snack. I had to live with looks like that all those years, and I had the urge do something about it." She picked at the buttons of Anne's shirt, opening the final two. "Does your arm hurt?"
"Like a bitch, but don't tell anyone," Anne hissed as Shana slipped the shirt from her good shoulder. "And I'm sure the doc is only doing her job. Okay?"
"Okay," Shana said as she kissed Anne's forehead. "I'll have to cut the rest off, I think." Dr. Hinkel had cut off the sleeve, but the shoulder was still intact, making the shirt impossible to remove.
Shana took the scissors and made a quick cut along the seam, and then carefully peeled the shirt off Anne's body. "Want me to remove the bandage?"
Anne swallowed. "Honey, I think you should leave that to the doc." She didn't want Shana to see the probably very ugly wound. "You'll have to let her look at me sooner or later," she tried to joke.
"And it's nothing I haven't seen before, trust me," Andrea said as she joined them again. Then she got serious. "Alright, I'm going to X-ray this now to see what the bullet has done, and then I'll repair whatever damage there is. It also looks like you have some more damaged parts." She looked at Anne's hands. "Ready?" The tennis player nodded. "Let's go, then." Andy went towards a drawer in a corner and came back with something green in her hand. She took the scissors, took a look at the material, and cut something off.
"I know we're not busy here today, but you might want to put this on nonetheless," she said as she helped Anne into a hospital gown that covered her front that was missing parts of one shoulder.
"Shay, why don't you go and see if you can find me some coffee around here?" Anne asked suddenly.
Her lover gaped at her. "How can you even think of coffee now?" she spluttered after a second. "I'm going with you, got that?"
"Honey," Anne whispered, leaning close to her, "I don't want you anywhere near the X-ray machine." She drew her forefinger lightly across Shana's midsection. "Got that?"
Shana sighed, but nodded, and was rewarded by a kiss that left her tingling despite its brevity. Then Anne and the doctor were gone. "I got it," the blonde sighed, "but I don't have to like it." She looked around. "Well, guess I'm going to try and find ... something."
"Hello," he greeted the doctor, "my name's John."
"Hello, John," the old man replied. "Are you a doctor?"
"No, I'm a nurse. I'm here to assist you. We're understaffed at the moment because of the storm. Most of the doctors and nurses are either making house calls or are at home unable to come in." John automatically started to check the patient's pulse.
"Ah, sorry," Doctor Hinkel replied. "Well, we need an X-ray or CT scan of the head to see what's going on."
"No problem," John said, even as he was pulling over a wheelchair from next to the reception desk. "What happened to him?"
"He had an argument with a frying pan," Carol said coolly. "He lost." She paused to think. "I need to make a phone call. Is there anywhere I can talk privately?"
"I'm sure Andy won't mind you using her office. You know where it is, right?" John
lifted Carlos's body into the wheelchair and started to push him down the hall. "We'll
be in room two."
"So what am I supposed to do now?" she wondered aloud. Leaning her thighs against the counter she took a long sip. She knew she could go and find something to do, or she could just sit down in the waiting area. "Nope." She shook her head, knowing she'd go crazy in about five minutes. She sighed. All she wanted was to be with Anne.
She finished her milk and put the glass in the sink.
"Didn't you know that your mom's cooking is pretty well known around here? I try to eat at the inn at least once a week when the restaurant's open."
"She never mentioned you ... and I've never seen you there," Anne replied, trying to get comfortable.
"Why would she mention a short, round woman who likes to eat out?" The doctor pulled the machine away, having finished the exam. "And how often were you up here in the past twelve months? Three weeks, four?"
Anne didn't even try to look contrite as she got up and followed the doctor. "I think I was here a total of five weeks this past year, but that was mostly because I had some injuries and took a break." They walked back to the other exam room. "I'm not usually around that much up here. I try to spend more time down south, where it's warm and sunny. Ouch." She shot Andy a murderous look and then looked at her arm where the wound lay now open. "You could have warned me."
"That wouldn't have made it any better," Andy replied, unperturbed, and tossed the bloody bandages in a bin. "I like my patients distracted." She grinned. "Makes them less tense."
"Well, I prefer knowing what's going on," Anne growled.
"Okay," the doctor drawled. "Right now I'm going to clean the wound, then I'll check the X-rays to see what's going on. And then I'll take care of your arm and hands."
"Any idea what I did to my hands?" Anne asked with a sheepish smile. "I know I did a number on them."
"That you did," the doctor agreed. "Whatever made you decide to ruin your hands like this?" Anne shrugged. "Yeah, I know. Long story, right?"
"Well, it'll take a while for them to get back to normal, but so far I'd say you've got a serious sprain in your wrist and lots of abrasions and bruising all over both hands. All I can do, really, is to clean them and wait for the swelling to go down. Even without the bullet through your arm you wouldn't be playing for a while."
Anne sighed. "Yeah, I know." Who cares? As long as Shay is okay. She
thought of something she had wanted to do since they arrived at the hospital. "Oh,
Doc, can you check out Shana as well when you're finished with me?"
"Sure, but why?"
"She was in a car accident a couple of days ago, and-"
"A car accident?" Andy gasped. "Why didn't you say so before?"
"Hey, Doc Hinkel checked her out quite thoroughly, and she seems to be okay. She only has some bruises on her shoulders and chest, but that's it."
"Then why do you want me to take a look at her?" the doctor asked.
"She's pregnant, and I want to make sure everything's all right," Anne mumbled.
"You heard me."
"That I did," Andy said, shaking her head. Interesting.
Anne looked up as she walked in. "So, what's the verdict, Doc?"
"Well, you were very lucky," Andy smiled reassuringly. "The bullet didn't hit the bone, just muscle. And it's a good thing you've got quite a bit of that there."
"So, what now? You put a bandage on it and we wait?"
"Er... not quite." The doctor gestured for Anne to lie down. "It does require some surgery."
"Surgery?" Anne asked. "So, you're going in there and stitch it back together?"
"Basically? Yes." Andy was busy setting up her instruments. "I'm going to work my way from the inside out, cleansing the wound, repairing any damage to the tendons, putting in some sutures. After that, it'll indeed be watching and waiting."
"You mean you're going to do it here?"
"Do you have another pressing appointment?"
" I'm more than qualified, if that's what you're worried about. Look, the longer we wait, the greater the chance of an infection. And I'd rather you keep that arm." The doctor grimaced. "I'm only using a local anesthetic, so you'll be fully alert the whole time."
Ironically, this did make Anne feel better. Somewhat in control. Oh yeah, and what are you going to do. Get up and run?
"Any more questions?" Andy asked patiently.
"Not right now, no." Anne swallowed. You mean I could really lose my arm?
"Okay, then let's get started. It's going to be okay."
Shana looked up and met the sheriff's eyes. "Sort of. Where are you headed?"
"I was going to call my former partner," Carol replied as they both continued down the hall. "I need to tell him about what we heard from Carlos. About the evidence at his place, and that it's pointing in the wrong direction. And I sort of promised Anne I'd ask Dave to search his files for a hint on the Hinkels' missing daughter. Maybe make some inquiries."
"Oh, that's a great idea." Shana gave the sheriff one of her full, radiant smiles. "Is there any chance of finding her?"
Carol smiled back in pure reflex. Wow. She mentally shook her head. "Honestly?" she replied earnestly. "I don't think so. She disappeared thirteen years ago, and I think Carlos and his business partners..." She stopped, suddenly remembering that Shana's parents might be Carlos's accomplices.
"Go on, say it," the tennis player sighed. "My parents, Anne's father ... they could all have been in this ... business."
"Yeah," Carol nodded. "Do you mind if we talk about this some more? Maybe you have more information we could use. Dave will probably want to talk to you as well."
"Sure, but I think I already told you everything I know." Shana was certain she couldn't come up with anything else. "Why don't you make your call first, and then we'll talk? I need to go check on Anne first."
"Okay," Carol said amiably. "I'll be here in Andy's office."
"So, what's the story about you two anyway?" Shana grinned as she saw the
sheriff blush and hastily disappear into the doctor's office.
Anne turned her head as much as she could without jostling her arm, which was stretched out at an angle from her body and fastened to a padded armrest. "Hey yourself. Andy says it's not so bad."
Andy grunted. She was wearing a surgical cap and mask and was completely focused on her work. "Close the door, please." She looked up for a second and added apologetically, "preferably from the outside, so I can work in peace."
Shana gasped, but Anne quickly reassured her. "I'm okay here, honey, really." She turned her head to look at the doctor. "How long, Doc?"
Andy sighed. She had just began working on the sutures after thoroughly cleaning the wound with a saline solution for quite some time. "Give me an hour, maybe two, just to be on the safe side." She looked at Shana again. "If we're finished sooner, I'll let you know."
Anne blew Shana a kiss and a mouthed 'I love you' when she saw that her lover didn't appreciate being sent away again. Shana gave her a small smile and returned the gesture before closing the door.
Outside she let go of a long sigh. This is going to be the longest day
of my life.
Dr. Hinkel nodded absent-mindedly as he looked at the X-ray results. "Hmm. Just a small fissure there. Not too bad." He turned to John. "Can you start an IV?"
Dr. Hinkel turned to start scrubbing his hands when he caught something shiny on his patient's chest. He reached over and pulled out a necklace with a small pendant, immediately recognizing it for what it was. He opened the pendant and took out a small, rolled-up piece of paper. "Oh, my," he sighed, "I didn't need this much temptation."
The paper listed about ten substances Carlos was allergic to. It would be so easy just to give him one of those and pretend he hadn't discovered the medical pendant until it was too late. He sighed.
"He's a walking allergy," he told John as he handed over the piece of paper
to the nurse. "Just make sure we're not giving him any of this."
"Andy is working on her arm, but she didn't look worried. Just focused." Shana sat down on the couch across from the desk where the sheriff sat. "She sent me away so she could work in peace."
Carol nodded. "Yeah, Andy likes to focus on her work, and she'll probably be busy enough keeping Anne still."
"Yeah, yeah ... not to mention me and my worry, right?"
"Did you reach your partner?"
"Ex-partner, and yes." Carol sat upright in the chair, then stretched languidly. "He's on his way here as we speak. They searched Carlos's house last night and found some evidence." She looked at the woman across from her. "Some of it did indeed point in Anne's direction, but I managed to clear that." She grinned. "It's probably a good thing in the end that Carlos tried to run you off the road, and I was there."
"He did run me off the road, he just didn't manage to kill me." Or my baby.
Carol sobered. "Yes, I know." She yawned. "What we need now, really, is a confession, and the names of his business contacts." The venom lacing the last two words was almost palpable.
"And ideally a hint on where the girls are now."
"Ideally, yes," the sheriff sighed, "but I'm not sure how much of a paper trail he's left for us to find any of them."
The conversation came to an uncomfortable pause. The women looked around the small office, both deep in thought, unsure of where to go next.
"So ...," they both began as if on cue. Carol made a gesture for Shana to go first.
"Sooo," the tennis player said, "how did an FBI agent end up as a small-town sheriff in the middle of nowhere?"
Carol smiled. "Curious, eh? Well, I'm pretty sure Anne told you how we came to meet each other." When Shana nodded, the sheriff continued. "Okay, after I quit the FBI I decided to get out of New York City. I sold most of my stuff or gave it to Dave, packed my car and made my way westward. I just drove across the country, stopping here and there to work a bit, and then drive on.
"It took me about two years before I made it to L.A. where I decided to stay for a while. I found a job as a bodyguard and had a pretty good life there. You know, the beach, sun, beautiful women."
"Then why did you leave?"
"Believe it or not, I missed the snow, the seasons, our Indian summer." Carol sighed. "You can't beat the colors of a New England Indian summer."
"If you say so." Shana grinned.
"Ah, yeah, I forget ... you're from Texas, aren't you?"
"Born and bred," Shana replied. "But I have to admit that I also like the snow and the colors up here. I've learned to appreciate them over the years."
"Well," Carol leaned back in her chair, "I was born up here, a small town in New Hampshire, in fact. So this isn't so different for me. Actually, I really like the way life flows in this community."
"So you came home," Shana mused aloud. "But how did you become sheriff?"
"Long story quickly told. I was passing through Halverston on my way to find a place for dinner when I saw this house for sale." She shrugged. "It spoke to me. Fate, maybe. I bought it and opened a martial arts school. I used the school gym for it, and after a while more and more people attended. It was fun, and since there's no need for bodyguards up here, it was a way to keep up my skills. More or less, that is." She threw up her hands in apparent disgust.
"One day, Mrs. Kennedy came to me and told me that the sheriff had had a stroke, and that they needed a replacement. I told her to just promote the deputy, but she just looked at me and told me that she and her cronies had discussed it and decided to ask me to run for the position."
Shana smiled. "Yeah, I've heard about Mrs. Kennedy. Doesn't she work in your office?"
Carol groaned. "Oh, yeah, that's her. Anyway, I thought about it and agreed. I was really surprised when I got the job, though, but it's nice work, people here respect me, and I have a pretty good --"
The sheriff stopped as the door opened and a carrot redhead peeked around the corner. "Dave!" Carol jumped up and hugged the newcomer. "It's so good to see you!"
"Hey, Carol," the small, wiry man greeted her, "good to see you, too. Man, how long has it been?" He hugged her again.
"Too long, buddy," Carol replied, "too long." She disentangled herself from his arms and pointed to Shana. "Dave, this is Shana Wilson. Shana, meet my former partner, Dave O'Dowd."
"Pleased to meet you," both mumbled as they appraised each other.
"Okay," Carol said pointing, to the doorway, "want to get down to business?
She was surprised to see three more agents in the hall, one in front of Andy's office, one in front of the room she knew Carlos was in, and one at the door to the room in which Andy was working on Anne.
She passed the female office with a nod and was allowed to enter the room without problems. "Hey, again," she whispered in greeting.
"Hey," Andy replied, looking up from putting a gauze pad on Anne's arm. "Why are you whispering?"
"I don't know. The FBI arrived, and there's an agent in front of this door," Shana said in her normal voice. She nodded towards her lover. "What's wrong with Anne?"
"Nothing's wrong," Andy grinned, "I think I bored her into falling asleep."
"I'm not sleeping," Anne mumbled sleepily. "Hey, baby."
"Hi there," Shana walked over and tenderly kissed Anne's forehead. "How do you feel?"
"Great," Anne yawned, "I can't feel anything right now." She turned to look at the doctor, who had started cleaning Anne's hands. "How should I feel, Doc?"
"I'm glad you're feeling okay, although I'm afraid there will be some pain later." Andy patted Anne's shoulder. "I've repaired the damage done by the bullet, which thankfully was a clean through-and-through, and from what I can see it was a small caliber as well. No damage to the bone or the artery. You were extremely lucky there."
"Thanks for taking care of her, Andy," Shana said with a smile.
"My pleasure." Andy smiled back. "And as soon as I've finished cleaning these hands, you're next."
To be concluded in Part 30.
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